Following a year of tit-for-tat insults and not-so-veiled threats between the heads of state of North Korea and the United States, the White House made the unexpected announcement earlier this month that President Donald Trump planned to meet Chairman Kim Jong-un in person in April 2018.
This post is part of the Asia-Pacific Policy Report Card series.
The proposed Kim–Trump summit likely has several explicit and implicit objectives:
- Pave the way for bilateral negotiations on the North Korean nuclear program and sanctions against the regime.
- Sideline Beijing for its unwillingness to contribute meaningfully to international efforts on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.
- Rally domestic support for Trump and the administration as they struggle to achieve desperately sought after “wins” on issues at home and abroad.
Evaluating the potential impacts of the proposed Kim–Trump summit regarding the various key issues at stake suggests:
- Regional Security: ⭘⬤⭘⭘⭘ Negative
Although the meeting demonstrates that direct diplomatic contact is possible even when bilateral tensions are at their tensest, the impetuous political rhetoric of the two leaders over the past year betrays their personalities and intentions. Further public outbursts would continue to be detrimental to the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.
- Denuclearization: ⭘⭘⬤⭘⭘ Unclear
Although President Trump fancies himself as a master negotiator, the North Korean leadership is likely a more cunning adversary than he may expect and has demonstrated over the decades that it has a more comprehensive understanding – warped as it may be – of Asia-Pacific regional security issues than Trump does.
- China–US Relations: ⭘⭘⬤⭘⭘ Negligible
The Trump administration’s repeated attempts to persuade Beijing to become more actively involved in controlling North Korean behavior have failed, and China has shown minimal interest in making headway on the issue. Although a successful bilateral summit without China could demonstrate that it is not the crucial actor that it assumes, it is more likely that little will come of it, and the general consensus will remain that Beijing’s involvement is essential for meaningful progress towards denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
- Domestic Support: ⭘⭘⭘⬤⭘ Positive
Given the political and psychological issues guiding the Trump administration, it is likely that the president will manage to frame the meeting as a personal win in the short term, but long-term effects in terms of drumming up domestic support are doubtful.
Overall Impacts: ⭘⬤⭘⭘⭘ Negative
The proposed Kim–Trump summit has the potential to result in a historic breakthrough in relations between North Korea and the United States, but the actions of the two administrations over the past year have intensified regional anxieties and posed a serious threat to the lives of millions of civilians in Northeast Asia.
Research contributed by Jonathan Spangler.
Published March 12, 2018. Last updated April 17, 2018.
All views expressed are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Asia-Pacific Policy Research Association or its affiliated programs. APPRA is an independent, non-profit organization promoting dialogue, research, and education about policies in the Asia-Pacific region. Support our work by making a donation.